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Sunday, October 22

Day Twenty-Two: Idea to Novel Workshop: The Inciting Event

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Welcome to Day Twenty-Two of Fiction University’s At-Home Workshop: Idea to Novel in 31 Days. For the rest of the month, we’ll focus on plot and the major turning points of a novel.

Today, we’re digging into the inciting event.

The Path to the Plot


The inciting event is the trigger that sets the rest of the plot in motion. Sometimes the inciting event is in the opening scene or chapter; other times it’s farther along in the novel. It traditionally falls somewhere between page one and thirty, or page one and fifty for longer novels.

Wherever it falls, it doesn’t have to be a huge, action-packed deal if that doesn’t fit the novel. It can be subtle, or it can be in-your-face obvious. It just needs to lead somewhere and cause something that’s much bigger, even it if takes a few chapters to get there.

Why the inciting event is important: This is the moment that sets the protagonist on the path to the rest of the plot. It’s also a major turning point in the plot, and a vital component of the working synopsis. This scene typically connects the opening scene to the act one problem scene, working as a bridge between the beginning of the novel and the middle of the novel.

Key Elements of an Inciting Event
  • The protagonist is presented with a problem and an opportunity to act.
  • The protagonist chooses to act and steps onto the path to the core conflict, or is dragged onto the path by greater forces.
  • This action triggers the rest of the novel.
The trigger is an important distinction with an inciting event. The action has consequences that ripple throughout the novel. If this moment did not occur, the novel would have turned out differently, or the plot would not have happened at all.

Things to consider to further develop your inciting event:

1. How does the protagonist get to this moment from the opening scene?

2. What’s the protagonist trying to do when this moment occurs? (the scene goal)

3. What is the conflict of the scene?

4. What’s at stake in the scene?

5. How is this problem resolved?

6. Does this event also affect the protagonist’s character arc? How?

7. How does the resolution trigger the next step of the plot?


EXERCISE: Describe the moment where the protagonist’s life changes and he starts on the path to the novel’s core conflict.


Be as detailed or as vague as you’d like. Consider how this scene builds off your opening scene and how it might lead to the next scene. Include any notes that might help later.

If you’re not sure how much to write, aim for one to three paragraphs that describe how the protagonist went from the opening scene to the moment the inciting event happens, what he’s trying to do, his reasons why, what goes wrong, what’s at stake, and the decision that will transition to the next scene. Writing more is also acceptable if you want to continue with how the plot would unfold to the next major turning point.

Those following along with the PYN book: Workshop Ten goes into more depth on the individual turning points of story structure, as well and the basics of scene and sequel structure. It also shares tips on plotting and story development.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the act one problem and how it gets the plot moving.

Follow along at home with the book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. Get more brainstorming questions and things to think about, in-depth articles, and clear examples of every step from idea to novel.

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A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), and Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means).   
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